Overused Words

Overused Words


By Donna Schlachter




What are overused words? They are those words we grab when we don’t want to stop and think through the scene long enough to choose the exactly correct word. They are the words that leap from our fingers onto the keyboard. And we all know how we feel about every single word we write—we love them. We don’t want to delete a single one of them.


            But seriously, overused words will drive an editor to toss your submission in the slush pile. A discerning reader will roll his/her eyes at the excessive use of words or phrases. And both may well end up putting your book aside for some other. And that’s the last thing we want.


Because these overused words are the first we grasp on to, they tend to weaken your writing.           Particularly worrisome are weak verbs and passive voice. A weak verb is one that tells us what is happening but doesn’t show us. So, for example, “He walked across the road” Would be better written as, “He stumbled across the road”. “Walked” would be considered an overused word.


            Another example is use of the passive voice, where the object of the sentence is not being acted on by the verb: He was running across the field. A more active way to say this would be: He raced across the field.


            Often, as writers, we latch onto various words and phrases because we like the sound of the words, and then we use them over and over. One of my pet phrases is “The last thing she needed”. While this may be a true statement, using that phrase more than once or even twice in a book will stand out to the editor and reader as amateur writing.


            Another set of overused words are see/saw/look/watch/heard/knew/thought. If we are in deep POV, we already see and hear and know everything our POV character sees and hears and knows, so we don’t need to tell the reader that the character is seeing and hearing and knowing. Take for example, “The door opened” is much more powerful than, “He saw the door open”.


How to deal with overused words:


Needless to say, the easiest thing to do is not to write these words and phrases in the first place. However, that is easier said than done, particularly when you want to simply get the story down. So, when you start editing, go through your manuscript with the “find” function to identify every time one of these overused words is used, then choose another word or phrase to replace it.


Yes, this means you will go through your manuscript approximately 50 times or more. But your story will be better, and you will have the chance to look at the various sentences around these overused words and make changes then.




Words often overused:


Because we tend to use these words when we speak, using them in dialog is not so serious as using them in narrative. You don’t need to completely eliminate these words—just use them sparingly and only if another word won’t work better. We tend to fall back on these words when we don’t take the time needed to find the exact right word.


-LY adverbs: in most cases, you can delete the word and not change the meaning of the sentence at all.




It (describe what IT is – makes the sentence more clear, avoids ambiguity, and gives you the opportunity to tell more about what IT is).




THAT (if you can take THAT out of the sentence and the sentence still makes sense, delete it).







  • A bit
  • Absolutely
  • Actually
  • Almost
  • Amazing
  • Approached
  • Are you all right?
  • As (clauses)
  • Awesome
  • Awful/awfully
  • Bad
  • Beautiful
  • Because
  • Become/became
  • Began
  • Believe
  • Big
  • But
  • By
  • Could
  • Decide
  • Eyed/eyeing
  • expression
  • face
  • Feel
  • Felt
  • Fine
  • Found (himself/herself)
  • Gave
  • Gaze/gazed
  • Glanced
  • Good
  • great
  • Had
  • Happy
  • Have
  • Hear/heard
  • If
  • Interesting

  • Just
  • Knew
  • Know
  • Like
  • Look
  • Looked like
  • Made
  • Made a face
  • Made his/her way
  • Making
  • Maybe
  • Name was
  • Nearly
  • Nice
  • Nodded
  • Not certain
  • Not sure
  • Notice
  • Observe
  • Often
  • Quite
  • Reached
  • Really
  • Recalled
  • remembered
  • Said
  • Saw
  • seemed
  • Shook his/her head
  • Shot (as in shot him/her a       glance)
  • should
  • Shrug/shrugged
  • Simply
  • Smell
  • So
  • Somehow
  • Suddenly
  • Taste

  • Then
  • There
  • Thereafter
  • Therefore
  • Think
  • Thought
  • Touched
  • Turned
  • Turned to face/to leave
  • Very
  • Was
  • Watched/watching
  • Well
  • When
  • With (prepositional       phrases–don’t rely on them so much)
  • Wondered
  • Would
  • You




Tools to identify overused words:


This is a free service that shows not only the overused words but also offers suggestions:








Donna is a writer of History Thru The Ages, creating stories from the heart, for the heart. She lives in Denver with husband Patrick. You can follow her blog at www.HistoryThruTheAges.blogspot.com, or check out her website at www.HistoryThruTheAges.com.


You are welcome to share this list as long as you link the credit back to me. www.HistoryThruTheAges.blogspot.com or www.HistoryThruTheAges.com


About historythrutheages

I write stories of His Story Through The Ages that offer tales of hope and redemption.

Posted on March 6, 2013, in Writing Tips. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Overused Words.

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